CHAPTER SIXTEEN- Long distance run around.
Monday morning reared its ugly head as it always does, entirely too early to be polite. Ray Meadows had managed to accumulate nearly twelve hours of sleep and was reasonably able to face the day, even if it was Monday. Barbara Meadows, with somewhat less sleep, was still able to see her husband off to work. Maybe a nap later. That sounded nice.
As the week trudged on, Ray knew he'd have to call Gilbert Lawrence. Over and over in his mind he planned this sneak attack. What would he say? How would he phrase it? Ray really didn't want to lie. But right now the truth seemed a little, well, inadequate for the job. What did Ray want to know? He wanted to know if S. Vaan of Lyndon, Illinois was the person Gilbert had been referring to as the one that ran from his family because of the climbers. Yes, that was it. But Ray wasn't supposed to know the guy's name- or the town. This was going to take a big leap of faith. A bluff. Ray would have to act as though he already knew the truth he was searching for. Ray was great at practical jokes, but lousy at poker. He always had a hard time keeping a straight face. Lucky for Ray there was no videophone connection. It would have been his undoing. By Thursday night, he had a plan. He had gone over his lie- and it really wasn't a lie, exactly. He had gone over what he was going to say: The big lead-in. His opening remark would either make or break his relationship with Gilbert Lawrence. If he screwed up, he was probably going to be on his own in this climber thing, short of going to England and searching for Arthur Crutchfield.
Nine o'clock Thursday night found Ray Meadows upstairs in his computer room. He had told Barbara to just stay downstairs and please watch TV. It was hard enough to do this without a witness. He had no idea what he'd say after that opening line. Might go well, might hit the wall. One line, one chance, no Plan B. He turned on the computer and pulled up the climber web site that Gilbert Lawrence was operating. Pad and pencil ready, title page on screen. Ray picked up the phone and tapped out the number on the screen. One ringy-dingy. Two ringy-dingies. Click. Someone picked up the receiver on the other end. It's Showtime!
"Ah, Gil- this is Ray Meadows. How you doing?"
Oh, man, Ray- you already sound suspicious. Hope you never try leading a life of crime. There's no way you're going to pull this one off. He probably already knows that you're up to something. He's got to.
"Oh, hi Ray. What's up?"
Ok, Ray, time to drop The Big One:
"Not much. Just went over to Lyndon last weekend to see Vaan."
Bright flash- Ka-Boom- Debris everywhere. Did it work? Seemed like a mighty long silence on the other end. Was Gilbert still there? Or did he just hang up?
"So you saw Steve?"
Victory! YEESSS! Ok Ray, stay cool. You've almost pulled this off. Don't blow it now. Not yet. Hang in there.
"Figures. Probably out in the woods."
"Yeah, still looking."
"I would think he's seen enough."
"You would think. What about you?"
"Nothing new to report here. More questions than answers."
"There's always more questions than answers. Always."
"Read about Crutchfield. He had quite a time in the war."
"That must have been something to go through, even without the climbers."
"You said he's still living near London?"
"Yes, a little place to the northeast. Why?"
"I was thinking about maybe a European vacation. Think he's up for a visitor?"
"Are you serious?"
"Maybe. What condition is he in?"
"I don't know. He will be seventy next year."
"So I'll bring him a present. What do you think?"
"Presents are always good, birthday or not."
"Have you actually spoke to him lately?"